Longer lockdown for over 70s ‘could create sense of victimisation’ | Society

Charities supporting older people have warned the government that prolonged shielding and social distancing for the over 70s while lockdown measures are potentially eased for others could create a sense of “victimisation”.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said age alone should not determine people’s ability to go about their daily lives if the government decides to begin easing some of the restrictions.

The prime minister is developing plans for the next stage of the government’s coronavirus response when the current lockdown period ends on 7 May.

Over 70s were told in March to abide by social distancing rules and those classed as extremely vulnerable because of an underlying health condition have been asked to stay at home until the end of June. Many of those people are over 70.

Ahead of plans being drawn up by government, which is understood to be extremely cautious about this age cohort and reluctant to change its advice, Abrahams said: “An enforced lockdown of people beyond a certain age would undoubtedly create a sense of victimisation, unless there is really clear clinical evidence showing that advancing age in and of itself makes it more likely that a person will become seriously ill, regardless of their state of health and their resilience.”

The charity has asked for the government’s advice for the next stage of the coronavirus strategy to be advisory and not compulsory. Abrahams also warned of worsening mental health among the over 70s if they have to spend months away from friends and family, describing it as “unimaginably” bleak.

The former Conservative chancellor, Ken Clarke, said treating the over 70s too cautiously could leave people feeling as though they are under house arrest, especially when many in this age group still work and look after grandchildren.

The Alzheimer’s Society has concerns about what a prolonged lockdown may mean for people with dementia. Isolation and a weakening of social skills maintained through day-to-day interaction could be a consequence. It has also suggested that any extension of the rules affecting the over 70s must ensure the continuation of reserved shopping hours for vulnerable people.

Chair of the all party parliamentary group on ageing and older people, Rachael Maskell MP, said the government could consider introducing a chief adviser on the elderly if they are going to be treated different to the rest of the population in the long term.

Downing Street has not released plans for this age group or how they fit into a lockdown exit strategy. Much of the response for supporting the elderly has been led by Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, who is expected to continue feeding into the government’s preparations.

However, the government may consider replacing the shielding advice for vulnerable people with gentler social distancing guidelines if the scientific evidence suggests it is feasible.

Dame Esther Rantzen, 79, founder of The Silver Line, which supports older people with telephone friendship and an advice helpline, said lockdown measures for the over 70s should continue if the government thinks it is the best advice.

Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly

NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they’re at home for longer than 14 days.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.

If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Staying at home means you should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home

You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.

Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020

She told the Guardian: “This is not something you can just breeze through when you are 70-plus. I think it’s a measure of the value they place on us. I won’t object. I would object far more if there was an official view that people over 70 didn’t matter and therefore they can come out and catch the virus and go down like nine-pins. The idea we should be shielded is evidence we should be valued.”

However she warned that the social cost of a potential extension would be high and asked people to keep up support for elderly neighbours if they are allowed to return to work.

Tory MP, Bob Blackman, said he did not expect government advice for the over 70s to change after 7 May. “I just don’t believe it’s going to change. For the over 70s it’s going to be [a message of’] ‘this virus is deadly, it’s killed more than 20,000 people, do you want to be one of the victims?”

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